Friday, September 25, 2009

In Memoriam: Leopold III, King of the Belgians

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the death of Leopold III, King of the Belgians from 1934 to 1951 (1). His passing was quite sudden and unexpected. He had been admitted to hospital for a heart operation, but his doctors were fairly optimistic and the King expressed his full confidence in the top quality medical team (including his old friend, renowned surgeon Michael DeBakey) that had come to his aid... The operation went smoothly. Sadly, however, only hours later, while still under anesthesia, the King's heart failed. His life had been full of tragedy, controversy and tumult but his death was peaceful.

Nonetheless, it came as a painful shock to his family, and to many of his people. The website of the Cercle Léopold III has a brief but deeply moving description (by Christophe Veys) of the days following the King's death:
Voici quelques pensées d'hommage au Souverain que j'ai toujours regretté de ne pas avoir eu l'occasion de rencontrer.

Lors du décès du Roi Léopold III, je n'avais que onze ans.

Je me souviens de mon instituteur... qui, en classe, nous avait fait suivre la cérémonie des funérailles à la télévision.

L'émotion marquait le visage de tous mes camarades de cours. Une ambiance lourde régnait...

Les images témoignaient du chagrin du Roi Baudouin et de tous les enfants du Roi Léopold III, blessés une nouvelle fois par le départ de celui qu'ils avaient tant aimé. Un sentiment de douloureuse et profonde sympathie était palpable.

Lorsque le cercueil sortit de l'église Saint Jacques sur Coudenberg, porté par les Chasseurs Ardennais, un silence absolu enveloppait alors la place Royale de Bruxelles. Pas un mot ne fut proféré par la bouche de ceux qui avaient autrefois accusé le Roi.

Ceux qui l'avaient blâmé hier lui rendaient hommage aujourd'hui, au moins par leur silence, devenu éternel…

Here are a few thoughts in homage to the Sovereign I have always regretted never having had the opportunity to meet (2).

At the death of King Leopold III, I was only 11 years old.

I remember my teacher...who had our class watch the funeral ceremonies on television.

Emotion marked the faces of all my classmates. A heavy atmosphere reigned...

The images testified to the grief of King Baudouin and all the children of King Leopold III, wounded afresh by the loss of the man they had loved so much. You could feel a sentiment of painful, deep sympathy.

As the casket left the Church of St. Jacques-sur-Coudenberg, carried by the Ardennian Rifles, an absolute silence enveloped the Royal Square in Brussels. Not a word from the lips of those who had once accused the King.

Those who had blamed him before, rendered him homage that day, at least by their silence, which had become eternal...
The King's children. (Marie-Christine is the only one missing). From left to right: Prince Alexandre, Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte, King Baudouin I, Prince Albert (now King Albert II), Princess Marie-Esmeralda.
Queen Fabiola supports the stricken Princess Lilian.
King Baudouin's tears.

(1) These are the dates of his reign. Nonetheless, he was allowed to use the title of 'King' even after his abdication (see Keyes, Echec au Roi and Jullian and Désiré, Un couple dans la tempête)
(2) I regret never meeting him, too!


MadMonarchist said...

A very sad anniversary for an upright and unjustly criticized monarch. I can sympathize with the pain the royals must have gone through. My late grandmother passed under similar circumstances. It is a terrible shock to be worried, told the procedure has gone fine, been relieved and then told that your loved one has gone.

May said...

A hard blow indeed. I am sorry about your grandmother.

It was right before this operation that Leopold entrusted his memoirs to Lilian, to publish when she saw fit, if he was not able to do so himself. (It was the first time she had seen the memoirs! ).